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Industrial cultural landscapes: Fragile and fugitive

Deloro treatment plant, August 2011.

Cultural landscapes

Published Date: 09 Sep 2016

Photo: Deloro treatment plant, August 2011. (Photo: Christopher Andreae)

Appreciating industrial cultural landscapes can be challenging due to the diversity of industrial activities and locations. The variation between rural and urban landscapes described below provides insight into the processes that created them.

Typical historical, rural industrial landscapes are associated with agriculture, forestry and mining. For about 30 years, at the end of the 19th century, quarries along the Niagara Escarpment at the Forks of the Credit provided Toronto and surrounding areas with high-quality building stone – most notably for the legislative building in Toronto. “Burning” limestone, that lay on top of the sandstone, was a minor industry. The exception was a novel kiln known as a Hoffman kiln that ran briefly in the 1890s. This design was widely used for firing brick, but was the only lime-burning example in Canada. These stone industries were short lived. By 1900, the tramways, quarry faces, incline railways and sheds had closed, and within another 20 years were largely invisible in the bush. The quarry landscape had mellowed sufficiently by 1930 to attract A.J. Casson to paint the scene. Today, the moody, mysterious ruins of the Hoffman kiln along with waste rock, rusting machinery and tramway earthworks are littered in the understory – in harmony with nature.

Stelco blast furnace in Hamilton, 1987.

Stelco blast furnace in Hamilton, 1987. (Photo: Christopher Andreae)

Mining and smelting operations at Deloro were quite different. Located on the Moira River near Marmora, it was part of Ontario’s first gold rush in 1866. Fortunately, from a business perspective, the ore was high in arsenic. While the gold was not profitable, the arsenic had a considerable market and Deloro was, for many years, North America‘s only arsenic producer. When mining there ceased in 1903, the landscape was defined by mine shafts, milling and smelting facilities, and a company town.

Again, fortuitously (for the owners), cobalt ore – also with a high arsenic content – had just been discovered at Cobalt in northern Ontario. Deloro had the smelting technology and, between 1907 and 1961, ore was brought by rail to Deloro for processing. For many years, arsenic was a lucrative commodity, but the market eventually disappeared and thereafter the arsenic ore was simply dumped.

Deloro entered a final phase of landscape evolution in 1979 when the province – having acquired the orphaned property – commenced a 40-year decontamination program of Ontario’s most contaminated industrial property. When finished in 2014, a new, engineered landscape had completely obliterated the historical, hazardous past. Remnants of the company town still exist, though, outside the former mining area.

The urban landscapes of industry most at risk today are those established before the First World War. These were located in the urban cores, close to residential areas and typically based on railway access. The modern industrial landscape is located along 400-series highways on the periphery of cities.

The McCormick factory in London

The McCormick factory in London (December 2014) was once a landmark industry. (Photo: Christopher Andreae)

Ce mouvement migratoire a contribué à la désuétude du noyau industriel et à la modification du paysage. Dans bon nombre de villes, chaque édifice industriel a été intégré au tissu urbain à des fins commerciales ou résidentielles. Mais, le paysage des usines compactes transformant les marchandises en produits commerciaux – avec le bruit, l’odeur et la circulation s’y rattachant – n’existe plus. Dans d’autres villes, comme à London et à Brantford, le district industriel survit toujours sur le plan physique, mais il est délaissé en attente de renouveau.

Quelques paysages industriels du noyau urbain continuent cependant à prospérer. La rue Burlington à Hamilton est située au beau milieu de ce paysage le plus imposant en Ontario. On y retrouve deux aciéries (l’une est en exploitation et l’autre est fermée), des raffineries, des usines de fabrication, d’entreposage et des infrastructures pour le matériel de transport par voie ferroviaire, terrestre et maritime. Ce paysage est stable pour le moment, mais la production d’acier est une entreprise concurrentielle sur la scène internationale et l’économie pourrait changer la donne.

Le milieu industriel rural, pourvu qu’il soit sécuritaire, est habituellement laissé lentement à l’abandon. La même option n’est pas offerte aux paysages industriels urbains. Outre la valeur de la terre et les risques physiques de l’abandon d’une propriété, la dégradation du milieu urbain est généralement inacceptable sur le plan esthétique.

L’activité industrielle au cours des 150 dernières années a contribué à la création de paysages distinctifs à l’échelon rural et urbain en tenant compte des opinions socioéconomiques du jour. On a assisté à l’évolution de nouveaux paysages au cours des dernières décennies qui reflètent nos valeurs actuelles. Au fil du temps, il reste la continuité et le changement dans la façon dont les paysages industriels à valeur culturelle ont évolué.

About the authorChristopher Andreae

Christopher Andreae, PhD, is a professional industrial archaeologist, historian and the principal of Historica Research.